Nielsen SoundScan 2011 midyear report: Music sales up for a change


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

The record industry has modest reason to celebrate this week: Album sales are up slightly for the first time in six years.

Total album sales, a figure that includes CDs, digital albums, LPs and other media, increased 1% in the first six months of 2011 over the same period last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan’s midyear report on U.S. music sales.


The gain is not much, but a significant improvement over double digit percentage drops that have become the norm over the last decade.

Among individual artists and titles, Adele holds three top spots in the tally, including the year’s top selling album to date (2.5 million copies of “21”), digital album, at 992,000 copies, and digital track with her single “Rolling in the Deep,” at nearly 4.1 million digital sales and counting.

Next week, “21” is expected to surpass Eminem’s 2010 album “Recovery” as the biggest selling digital title in history. Just this week, “Recovery” became the first album to exceed 1 million paid digital sales.

Katy Perry’s “E.T.,” featuring Kanye West, is the top selling digital song, a category that combines all versions of the song, with just more than 4.1 million sales.

Overall music sales -- encompassing albums, singles, music video and digital tracks -- are up 8.5% over last year at this time.

An irony, however, is that although album sales have been bolstered this year by sales of blockbusters from superstar artists such as Lady Gaga and Adele, the net gain is more due to strong response to sales of older albums -- those released 18 months ago or earlier.


Catalog album sales showed a 7% hike, which offset a 4% drop in sales of current albums. Album sales generate the biggest chunk of the record industry’s total revenue year in and year out. Among the 10 bestselling catalog albums were a smattering of fresher names, such as Adele and Miranda Lambert, but hits collections from Journey and Credence Clearwater Revival were also on the chart.

The digital domain continued making headway, with digital albums up 10% over the midyear point in 2010, and digital track sales increasing 11% so far this year.

Vinyl LPs also continue to show a strong resurgence, even though the total portion of music sales is small -- 1.9 million out of 221.5 million total albums sold to date this year -- but the percentage jumped 41% over 2010.

Total album sales numbered 155.5 million to date. Nielsen SoundScan also has a separate, lesser-quoted category of overall album sales, which includes track equivalent albums -- the number of digital tracks sold by a given artist divided by 10, the average number of tracks on standard albums. That number is 221.5 million, a 3.6% increase over the same period last year.

Broken out by genre, rock still leads the way with sales of 52.3 million, up 2% compared to 2010. Alternative music, the second most popular genre with 26.9 million, was off 1% compared to last year, while R&B, third with 26.5 million sales, has dropped 8%. Rap sales are less than a quarter of rock titles, but show an increase over 2010 of 1%, up to 12.5 million.

The biggest gainers are classical music, up 13% to 3.8 million, and electronic music, showing a 9% gain to 5.2 million.


Critic’s Notebook: Adele’s quiet power amid the pop girl riot

Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ sags in sales

Eminem’s ‘Recovery’ passes 1 million digital downloads in U.S.

-- Randy Lewis

Photograph of Adele performing in Rotterdam in 2009. Credit: Paul Bergen / Redferns.